Having directed some of the most notable films throughout the history of cinema, it's borderline criminal that Alfred Hitchcock never won any of his 5 Oscar Nominations or any of his astounding 8 Director's Guild of America Nominations. Despite all of his ego-shattering shortcomings by his peers and colleagues, no one would ever dare question the greatness of one of the finest directors to ever walk the planet. Therefore, when longtime writer and first time director Sacha Gervasi's biographical debut effort, Hitchcock, was first screened by its distributor Fox Searchlight Pictures, they did everything in their power to release it in time for an awards season run of its own.
After the massive success of his last film, North by Northwest, famed director Alfred Hitchcock (played by Anthony Hopkins) seeks out his next project. When he comes across a book called Psycho, which closely relates to the true crime murders by serial killer Ed Gein, Hitchcock quickly becomes hooked by the novel's fiendish flair. Grotesque, violent and well beyond anything people had ever seen, the director's sales pitch receives anything but a glowing endorsement from Paramount Pictures. Forced to finance the film on his own, Hitchcock and his loyal wife Alma (played by Helen Mirren) face immense economic and personal pressure all along their journey of bringing Psycho to the big screen.
Less so a movie about making a movie, Sacha Gervasi's major motion picture debut, Hitchcock, is a misdirected and contrived look at the inner workings of a strained relationship between husband and wife. Rather than deliver a My Week with Marilyn style of film showing the on-set genius of one of Hollywood's finest directors, Gervasi places his focus on the underlying backbone or Hitchcock's career, his wife Alma. Trying to sell the acclaimed career of Alfred Hitchcock as a complete team effort, Alma's character becomes the unrecognized master behind the curtain. And while the couple's relationship slowly begins to crumble, we watch as Hitchcock's Psycho metaphorically reaps the disastrous effects. Hence, reaffirming that Gervasi's feature is less about Psycho and more about the director's marriage. This approach clearly proves fatal as the issues of their struggling relationship become bogged down by the audience's deeper desire to see how one of cinema's greatest films came about. Furthermore, Gervasi strikes the wrong chord in two other areas of the movie. First, the outlandishness behind Hitchcock's recurring visions of Ed Gein are over the top and unnecessary. They ultimately create an imbalance to the feature that never gets corrected. Also, the opening and closing scenes of the film show Hitchcock breaking character from the movie and talking directly into the camera to the audience. Meant to pay homage to the television show Alfred Hitchcock Presents, these moments feel more forced than instrumental to the final product.
For as messy as Sacha Gervasi's Hitchcock appears to be, the work treads water because of an all-star cast featuring Academy Award winners Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren. Hopkins is undoubtedly stellar in his title role, but it's actually Mirren who walks away as the film's biggest winner. Mirren commands your full attention and dishes out a handful of Oscar-worthy scenes. In fact, Mirren and Hopkins are almost reason enough to venture to the theatre. On a smaller scale, the supporting work of Scarlett Johansson also adds a positive dimension to the feature. While Gervasi clearly battles to iron out an award's season contender, his cast attempts to pick up his slack and salvage his work. As a result, it wouldn't be a shock to see Mirren garner a nomination and, if it weren't for such a crowded Best Actor category, the same could be said for Hopkins.
2012's Hitchcock is a disappointing and misguided examination into the life and work of a cinematic genius. Disorganized and chaotic, the film ultimately descends from Oscar-hopeful to Oscar-doubtful. Although a highly regarded cast gives their best possible effort, Hitchcock ends up falling flat and feeling like an insufficient piece of filmmaking. Thus, there's no reason to rush and see Hitchcock in theatres, as you're best suited waiting for DVD to catch these strong onscreen performances.